20 August 2006

Hate the Phrase; Love the Phraser

“Hate the sin; love the sinner.” We’ve all heard the phrase, maybe have even used it. Well, I hate it. My hope for this post is that either:
• Someone will convince me that I am wrong about this phrase
• I will convince at least one person to stop using it

What is wrong with “Love the sinner”?
The second half of the phrase is acceptable. There are many scriptures that tell us or show us how to love everyone, which would include the sinner. Two of my favorites are 1 John 4 and John 8:3-11. (Readers are encouraged to list their favorite related scriptures.)

What is wrong with “Hate the sin”?
The first half of the phrase is also acceptable. Once again, we can find many scriptures that instruct us to hate, loathe, abhor, and avoid sin. Here is a list that I think is nearly comprehensive; please add to it if you can:

Psalms 45:7; 97:10
Proverbs 8:13; 13:5
Ecclesiastes 3:8
Amos 5:15
Revelations 2:6
Romans 12:9
2 Nephi 4:31
Alma 13:12; 37:29, 32

I’ll quote that last one here:

32 And now, my son, remember the words which I have spoken unto you; trust not those secret plans unto this people, but teach them an everlasting hatred against sin and iniquity (emphasis added)

Though there are not as many verses that support the first half of the phrase as there are that support the second half, I consider both halves to be well-supported.

When two rights make a wrong
The problem with the phrase is not in its individual parts, but instead in their combination. I appealed to scripture to support the two halves individually, but I cannot find any scripture that supports the phrase as a whole. This may seem like I am making two fallacious arguments: 1) That the absence of support is tantamount to denunciation, and 2) If the scriptures don’t tell us to do something, then it is wrong to do it.

What do the scriptures mean by “Love” and “Hate”?
More important than finding no support for the phrase as a whole, is that the scriptures supporting its individual parts are actually opposed to the phrase. Some have argued that hating the sin is actually the way that we show our love. I say that expressing hatred is not an expression of love. The scriptures that teach us how to show our love (2 Cor 6:6 and D&C 121:41) do not include a “hate clause.”

The scriptures that tell us to hate sin are also opposed to the phrase. The focus of their admonition is on how a man views the sins that tempt him. We are not told to hate the sins of others, but to hate the sins that we would otherwise commit.

The two halves of the phrase are good but unrelated. By bringing the two together, we pervert their meanings and end up doing the opposite of what they would teach. The Lord has a better way:
45 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.


Geoff J said...

Sorry bro. but your argument is weak in my opinion. The phrase works very well I think. Further, it works quite well if there is an "and" or "but" or ";" between the juxtaposed hate/love statements.

Hate thievery but love the thief.
Hate thievery and love the thief.
Hate thievery; love the thief.

What is wrong with any of those phrases? How are any of them doctrinally incorrect? How are any of them uncharitable?

Sins hurt the sinner (and often others) so hating sins of others is a charitable thing to do. By hating the thievery of a thief we hope for better choices from him/her. How is that uncharitable?

Insert any sin and the principle applies.

The good news is that even though I hate your argument, I still love you (in a universal love kinda way of course... )

Anonymous said...

I hate that phrase, too. Most of the times I've heard it, it came from the mouth of a homophobe justifying their stance on homosexuals. And usually, it's said by people who, in my opinion, are very good at hating [the sin?] and don't come across so well at loving the sinner. Try loving the sinner first, really convince me that you love the sinner; and when you've got that mastered, then teach me a sermon on hating the sin.

BrianJ said...

Geoff J,

What is wrong with your phrases? I tried to answer that in my post. How does hating thievery help the thief? Okay, you hate what the thief did, now what? What are you going to do for the thief? Your hatred of his actions do nothing for him. Forgiveness, patience, love, friendship, discipline--all these do something for the thief.

"By hating...we hope..." You'll have to explain that to me, because I do not see it. As I see it, hope looks forward to the good things that the thief is capable of doing, whereas hate only looks back upon the bad.

Nevertheless, I still love you--and the wit of your comments.

BrianJ said...


Yes, it is often used in reference to homosexuality. But I have heard it applied in a very broad range.

Your comments express some frustration toward homophobes. How do you show love toward them?

Geoff J said...

Brian J,

You’re not implying that we should love the sin and love the sinner both right?

It seems that your point is that by placing these clauses together one of the meanings somehow changes, but I think you are simply mistaken. The meaning of one clause is not changed by juxtaposing it with the other in a sentence. There is nothing wrong with loving sinners; there is nothing wrong with hating sin. And mentioning both at the same time does not make either wrong – it mostly makes for a memorable and useful couplet.

Okay, you hate what the thief did, now what? What are you going to do for the thief?

Ummm... Well as the couplet says, you love the thief. You help him see that stealing hurts others and damages his relationship with God. You help him see that he can be better and that if he sows better seeds he will reap better results in his life. You help him hate stealing for those same reasons -- it hurts everyone involved; himself, the victim, and God.

hope looks forward to the good things that the thief is capable of doing, whereas hate only looks back upon the bad.

You are conflating two separate issues here. He should hope for the future and he should forget any of his own past sins when he repents (and God also promises to forget past sins of the repentant). But he should hate stealing *in general* enough to avoid ever doing it again. That is a mark of true repentance. As Nephi prayed:

"Wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin?" (2 Nephi 4)

Anonymous said...

I'd like to add some tid bits to this discussion. There is a really great book called The Bonds that Make Us Free by C. Terry Warner. It sheds light on topics such as hate, love, anger, jealousy, etc. There is a quote that I read for the first time in this book, but is from The Devils by Dostoyevsky it says, "All my life I have been lying. Even when I told the truth. For I never told the truth for its own sake, but only for my own sake." Warner elaborates on this quote by saying, "We can get the facts right and be wrong in contending that these facts excuse or justify us." So just because we may hate the sin--for all the right reasons (because of our faith in our beliefs, etc.) we can not excuse our selves from our moral responsibility (I think of this as our love) for all humanity--even those and especially those who "trouble" us by their choices or places in life.
The troubling thing about this statement, is not the "truthfullness" of the statement, but how people have through out time used it to justify their anger, disregard for others, and self righteousness towards the "sinner".
Using this statement with out those self-righteous, malice-justifying feelings is a really hard thing to do.
Instead I like the phrase, "As I have loved you love one another". In this statement I can understand that our Savior Jesus Christ has loved me through all my sins, imperfections and stiffneckedness (to quote the BOM). This perfect love is something that is easier to understand using "As I have loved you love one another", rather than the statement "hate the sin, love the sinner".

**Hope I'm not too simplistic in my sentiments, but I feel what I said may add some light to the discussion. Also check out that book it is really terrific.

BrianJ said...

Geoff J,

"It seems that your point is that by placing these clauses together one of the meanings somehow changes"

I think two things happen:

1) Your focus changes. I don't think that hating the sins of others is a way to show love. Thus, as long as your focus is on their sin, you are not loving them.

2) You change the scripture's meaning of "hate the sin." As I wrote, "We are not told to hate the sins of others, but to hate the sins that we would otherwise commit."

I think the verse you quoted from 2 Nephi 4, which I also quoted in the post, illustrates this point. Had Nephi, or anyone else, said, "...shake at the appearance of sins of other people," I would be convinced. But Nephi doesn't focus on the sins of his enemies. Rather, he expresses sorrow that he is angry:

"27 Why am I angry because of mine enemy?
28 Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.
29 Do not anger again because of mine enemies."

Lastly, I think you make some bold and very good recommendations of how to love others:

"You help him see that stealing hurts others and damages his relationship with God. You help him see that he can be better and that if he sows better seeds he will reap better results in his life. You help him hate stealing for those same reasons -- it hurts everyone involved; himself, the victim, and God."

If only I could actually do that....

BrianJ said...

Anon #2,

Your comments are very welcome. Thanks especially for adding your favorite scripture on loving others--"As I have loved you love one another".

That happens to be one of my favorite hymns. (I used to sing it over and over to get my daughter to sleep.)

Geoff J said...

Well I can see how the phrase could be misapplied so I will grant you that.

However, I think that a proper application of the phrase is not a problem because I think Christ himself loves me and hates my sins. He hates my sins because he loves me and he knows my sins hurt me. Therefore I think hating the things that hurt the ones we love (like their sins) is loving others as Christ loved us.

BrianJ said...

Geoff J:

I opened my post by writing what I hoped I would get out of it:

"• Someone will convince me that I am wrong about this phrase
• I will convince at least one person to stop using it"

I should add a third:

• I will have a good conversation with someone who disagrees with me whereby we both clarify our thinking.

I really appreciate your comments, especially the testimony you have. It stands out in your writing that you know God's love and our need to be close to it.

Anonymous said...

Maybe this blog has already reached its natural conclusion, but in reading it I couldn't help but notice what phrase from the bible "Hate the sin; Love the sinner" must have come from. I thought it might be of interest to everyone:

Hebrews 1:9:
"8 But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.
9 Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity(emphasis mine); therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows."

A similar phrase from Messianic prophecy, to which I have no doubt Paul is referring, is found in Isaiah 7:15:

"14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
15 Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good (emphasis mine)."

I like to think of these verses as explaining in part the divine understanding Jesus had that fitted him for his Christ mission. He loved "righteousness," and hated "iniquity." Neither of these statements infer specifically that he "loved the sinner," rather he loved God; he loved good and hated all sin.

Of course from the Scriptures we know he did love the sinner, but perhaps we should examine more closely another definition of "sinner." Remember he himself was called a sinner by all of the Pharisees and Scribes—that was their reason for his crucifixion (to their unenlightened thought he was constantly breaking the Mosaic Decalogue—he worked on the Sabbath, and claimed himself to be one with God; blasphemy!). But Jesus recognized something deeper about the nature of sin than the Pharisees and Scribes. Recall he said, “I am not come to destroy [“the law or the prophets”], but to fulfill”—he saw that the “publicans and sinners,” harlots, and so forth were not as much sinners as those judging them from the priestly office. For while their sins were plain and they were already embarked on a path of suffering towards repentance, the priests comfortably committed a host of hidden sins, while freely condemning others; thinking themselves sinless, yet sinning “in their hearts.” “Woe unto them!” When Jesus revealed their hidden sins to them, they hated him and this is primarily what, humanly, led him to the cross.

So my beef with the phrase “hate the sin; love the sinner” is that it does indeed mix two distinctly different phrases, that have truth independent of one another—only when standing alone in their respective contexts. You have to be very careful when you mix them, because it seems to me that you begin to accept something you may not realize you’re accepting; mainly that in loving the sinner you might be choosing the evil instead of refusing it. Jesus “loved righteousness”, he chose good, but he hated iniquity, he refused evil. Ought we not to strive constantly to follow his example?

I believe that loving the sinner means that we are seeing him/her for who he/she truly is, as Jesus saw him/her, the “male and female” that God created in His “own image and likeness;” the “male and female” that God created “very good.” This is how Jesus chose good and refused evil. For example, he refused to see Mary Magdalene as a sinner, but rather by her tears and contrite heart he forgave her, seeing the female that God created “very good” come forth. What higher demand can we all have than to strive daily to see our fellow man as “very good” instead of a “hopeless sinner,” conceived in sin and destined to sin. This is the only way we can truly love our neighbor, otherwise, though we might say or think the contrary (which can place us dangerously near the mentality of the Pharisees and Scribes), we’re judging and condemning our fellow man. Is not that very judgment the stone Jesus bid the Jews throw if there were any “without sin among [them].” And herein is the true love of Christ: even he, who was utterly pure of sin, did not condemn the woman. Ought not sinners much more to forgive their fellow man, than this one being pure and justified of God?

I am deeply touched by the beautiful conversation you’ve all been having, and I hope my addition will not be seen as an intrusion but rather a “casting of bread upon the waters,” the good to choose, and the evil (if any be found) to refuse.

Bless you all!

“When speaking of God's children, not the children of men, Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is within you;" that is, Truth and Love reign in the real man, showing that man in God's image is unfallen and eternal. Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals. In this perfect man the Saviour saw God's own likeness, and this correct view of man healed the sick. Thus Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is intact, universal, and that man is pure and holy.”

—Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, pg. 476:28
by Mary Baker Eddy

BrianJ said...

That's weird: there used to be a bunch of comments associated with this post....